We love to hear your ideas for how best to enjoy responsible travel. Here Gemma, Placement Manager at PoD Volunteer, a leading non-profit volunteer agency, shares her top tips for travellers.
Volunteering is a great way to get to know the local community and a fantastic way to travel responsibly by helping local projects. However, when you are travelling abroad there are extra steps you can take to avoid your actions causing offence or harm to the local environment. Here are top tips from PoD Volunteer (www.podvolunteer.org) that can help you become the best ethical traveller!
1. Buy locally – This way you get to explore the markets and shops, sights and smells, plus try new local delicacies (which can be quite an experience!). By buying directly from the farmers and small businesses you are helping to ensure they are paid a fair amount for their goods.
2. Haggling- We all like a good bargain but there are right and wrong ways to bargain when travelling abroad. Top rule is to be friendly, smile and remember it’s all about compromise (but don’t show that you like the item too much!). Remember. you can always walk away if the price isn’t right and don’t worry if you ended up paying 10% too much- you wouldn’t even notice this extra mark up when shopping at home.
3. Understand and respect local customs- The last thing you want to do is offend locals when you arrive so it’s good to check out what is socially regarded as rude. In Malaysia it is rude to point with a finger (you should use your thumb), in Thailand the head is the most sacred part of the body so you should not touch anyone’s head, and in India when eating with your hands you should not eat using your left!
4. Use water carefully- Clean water is very valuable in many countries so try not to waste water by taking long showers or leaving taps running.
5. Ask before taking a photo- In certain societies around the world people believe that taking a photo takes their soul too so it’s always polite to ask before talking a photo of someone. They may want to see their photo on your digital camera once you have taken it.
6. Carefully think about the souvenirs you buy- When buying items it’s good to carefully consider purchases and make sure you are not supporting activities that damage the environment or are a result of illegal activity. Make sure you are not buying a souvenir made from ivory, endangered hard woods, ancient artefacts or endangered animals.
7. Use refillable water bottles– Many countries do not have recycling facilities so each plastic water bottle you throw away will end up on a rubbish heap. Use refillable water bottles wherever possible by filling up with water from clean water dispensers or use water purification tablets.
8. Respect the environment– When trekking keep to the well-walked paths, do not damage coral when diving and do not remove anything from its natural environment. Read and follow local national park rules and regulations.
9. Travel Green– Explore the country by using public transport, bike or simply walking when it’s convenient. It reduces pollution and carbon emissions plus it’s a fun way to meet locals!
10. Get involved with local communities- The best memories can be made from joining in with local communities but don’t forget to ask first before entering a holy place and make sure you respect local cultures, traditions and are dressed appropriately (many religions prefer visitors to have covered shoulders and legs before entering certain building or areas, if in doubt just ask).
And an extra one for luck!
11. Hellos and Thank Yous- It’s easy to learn two words before arriving into a new country. A smile and even a badly pronounced “hello” or “thank you” will get you a long way and they will respect you for trying!
At PoD Volunteer we want to ensure that a volunteer’s impact is always positive and never damaging so we advise our volunteers on our social, economic and environmental policy in our project information booklet when volunteers apply for a placement overseas.
If you would like to explore the world and volunteer you can view a range of project options from PoD Volunteer here: http://www.podvolunteer.org/Type-of-Volunteering/